Julia Street with Poydras the Parrot
The pursuit to Answer Eternal Questions
The Cosmopolitan Hotel, circa 1894
I am looking for information on the Cosmopolitan Hotel, which I believe was on Bourbon Street in the early 1900s. I think both of my grandfathers worked there when they came into the United States and arrived in New Orleans.
Once considered to be one of the city’s finest hotels, the Cosmopolitan Hotel and Cafe Restaurant opened in 1892 under the management of Eugene Krost and Joseph Voegtle. Designed to accommodate commercial travelers, the hotel in the 100 block of Royal Street didn’t yet extend through the block to Bourbon Street. Thoroughly modern, it boasted the finest in food and drink. Each of its 24 guest rooms had electric lights, filtered water and electric service bells.
The Cosmopolitan Hotel soon became so popular that it frequently had to turn away paying guests simply because there was no room to accommodate them. In June 1893, construction began on a seven-story annex that would extend the hotel to Bourbon Street, adding 94 guest rooms and a ladies’ restaurant. The annex opened in February 1894.
In 1920, Herbert F. Jones, who had built the Palm Apartments on St. Charles Avenue across from Lafayette Square, gutted and remodeled the Royal Street side of the Cosmopolitan Hotel, renaming it the Hotel Astor. The Astor narrowly escaped demolition in early ’74, when developers came very close to tearing it down and replacing it with a high-rise motor hotel; the Bourbon Street side of the old Cosmopolitan Hotel was torn down in the ’40s.
Have you ever heard of the Basin Pirates? Probably not – I can explain.
A little before and after 1940, when the New Basin Canal was open, watermelon boats from the Northshore used to travel across Lake Pontchartrain and up the canal to haul their melons to market. That waterway passed through Lakeview along West End Boulevard. The teenage boys in the neighborhood used to wait and watch for the melon boats. When the boats got close enough, the boys were already in mid-stream, ready to board the boats. Sometimes they got on and sometimes they didn’t. The boat crews tried to keep them off with long poles or by throwing rocks at them. Oftentimes the boys made it and threw melons over the side. The boats were always moving, but the Basin Pirates were able to board and get two or three melons. It was a dangerous undertaking but teenagers think they’re bulletproof. Once in a while, if someone shouted “Throw us a melon,” the crew would do so.
Eventually, the canal was closed and the Basin Pirates went out of business.
Just a tidbit of Lakeview lore that I’d love to hear more about.
Ahoy! Around the time the Basin Pirates were in their heyday, there was a police desk sergeant named Frank Sehrt who lived on Ringold Street in Lakeview and had a young son. By any chance, were you the kid of the cop who also happened to be King NOR 1940?
In 1945, the New Orleans Junior Sports Association had a baseball team called the Basin Pirates, but the melon-raiding youths who grew up along the New Basin Canal were the stuff of legends from a more innocent time. The Pontchartrain Expressway now runs along much of what was once the canal right of way, extending roughly from the Plaza Tower building to West End.
On Dec. 8, 1941, the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 1,500 troops came to New Orleans to defend critical infrastructure including water purification plants, telephone facilities, highways and bridges. Along the New Basin Canal, real soldiers manned the bridges and guarded against sabotage. As the nation plunged into war, so too did the Basin Pirates as the older boys answered the call to military service. I wonder how many of these mischievous kids made it back home.
Dear Julia and Poydras,
In the 1950s and ’60s, there was a beauty salon in the 800 block of Royal Street. The owner/manager was named Gene Dalia. What else can you tell me about this shop?
Bay St. Louis, Miss.
Located at 831 Royal St., the Salon de Belle Dame was started by Paul Punch. A native of Lockport, Punch had been a stylist for the Gallery Circle Theater before starting his own salon.
Punch died unexpectedly in June 1964. According to the New Orleans States-Item, investigators surmised that Punch had misplaced his keys, which were later found in his car seat, and tried to enter his St. Charles Avenue apartment by climbing up to a second-story gallery when he fell and struck his head. He later died at Charity Hospital.
Following Punch’s death, Ronald Leeke and Gene Dalia took over the business. Salon de Belle Dame appears to have remained in operation at that location until the mid-1990s.
When I was growing up along the River Road in Reserve, we would come to Canal Street to shop. One of the big discussions was where we were going to eat for lunch. It would be the restaurant in D. H. Holmes or Maison Blanche. I can’t remember the restaurant names. I remember, I think, it was in the restaurant in Maison Blanche that I had my first Reuben sandwich.
D. H. Holmes’ restaurant doesn’t seem to have had its own name until the late 1960s, when it was called the Holmes Potpourri. Maison Blanche’s competing restaurant was known as the Rendezvous.
Menus from the late 1960s and early ’70s show Maison Blanche’s Rendezvous offered dining options including pimento cheese spread sandwiches, trout meunière, ribeye steak and broiled oysters, while D. H. Holmes’ Potpourri was a bit more upscale, offering pompano en papillote and oysters Rockefeller. Neither of the popular Canal Street department store restaurants seems to have offered Reubens on their luncheon menus but, because both places offered changeable daily specials, I cannot be certain they did not – at least occasionally – offer the popular sauerkraut-based rye sandwich.
For two years in the 1950s I went to a summer day camp called Twin Oaks Day Camp. It was out on Hayne Blvd., but I don’t remember how far. (The bus picked us up at our homes and we just went.) I don’t think it was past Lincoln Beach, but I’m not 100 percent sure, and it was at least a mile or two past the airport. In high school (I graduated Fortier in ’67), I knew friends who went to different grammar schools in the city, and I learned that some of them attended the same day camp. I can’t find anything on the Internet about Twin Oaks, though it was pretty popular. Lots of my Jewish friends went there, also bused from Uptown. There was a pool with a waterfall, a bunch of pavilions, a lunch pavilion and lots of games and role-playing (I was an Apache, or was it a Sioux?). One night each summer we got to stay there late (after dark) and they had a big bonfire – a great place to act out our American Indian roles.
Twin Oaks Day Camp was located on 9420 Hayne Blvd., just over two miles past the airport. In May 1954, Mrs. L. P. Farmer invited the public to an open house at the new facility she would operate in Little Woods. According to the invitation, the completely fenced 10-acre camp was a member of the American Camping Association and boasted large oak trees, a pavilion and softball and volleyball courts, as well as a 55-foot-long cement swimming pool. The camp was open to both boys and girls and offered two four-week sessions each year. It was open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Camp organizers provided transportation as well as a mid-morning snack and lunch for each kid. The camp remained in operation until at least ’67.
Win a Court of Two Sisters Jazz Brunch or Lunch at the Rib Room
Here is a chance to eat, drink and listen to music, and have your curiosity satiated all at once. Send Julia a question. If we use it, you’ll be eligible for a monthly drawing for one of two Jazz Brunch gift certificates for two at The Court of Two Sisters in the Vieux Carré. To take part, send your question to: Julia Street, c/o New Orleans Magazine, 110 Veterans Blvd., Suite 123, Metairie, LA 70005 or e-mail: Errol@MyNewOrleans.com. This month’s winners are: Martin Audifredd, Lafayette, La.; and Frank Sehrt, Metairie
Julia on TV
Look for the Julia Street question on “Steppin’ Out,” every Friday at 6:30 p.m. on WYES/Channel 12. The show features reviews, news and features about the New Orleans entertainment scene. Viewers who can answer Julia’s weekly question can call in for prizes. Tell ’em you read about the show in New Orleans Magazine.